On not comparing our stories (Part 1)
Hi! Bethany here. This post was suggested by Emily back in December, and it’s important and complicated and we’re finally dishing it up today!
As a general FYI before we move on, I wanted to clarify something: Emily contributes in significant ways to most blog posts and social media activity. But actually putting the words together and typing them out is uber-challenging with expressive aphasia. So we discuss, I write, and then we discuss more and eventually post/publish/invite you to read. We’re clearly more tortoise than hare. Quality over quantity, folks.
Moving on! Grief and comparison!
A couple months ago Emily and our mom ran into a family acquaintance. Classic mom-style small talk began, which Emily mostly tuned out until this person started talking about a neighbor of theirs who had suffered some sort of injury. This neighbor was apparently taking “forever” to recover, and then offered the classic line:
“It’s nothing compared to what you’ve all gone through.”
Now that was probably meant to be complementary to Emily and my mom. But let’s just say Emily has some strong feelings about that kind of statement. Unfortunately, aphasia prevented her from expressing everything she would have liked to have said at that moment. Which led us to this moment.
“Grief is a grief is a grief!” That’s what Emily says often as we’ve discussed the conversation about the neighbor.
Grief and/or recovery are common and often misunderstood. There can be similarities between one story and another, whether in situation or actions that encourage the affected individuals.
But every experience is different.
Please don’t hear this coming from a high and mighty place. I can think of many instances of friends going through hard times prior to Emily’s stroke that I would handle differently today. They were hurting, and I didn’t know what to do or say that would be helpful, which meant I often did nothing.
Emily’s stroke resulted in loss and pain, for her and many others. Losing a job, a car accident, rejection from a college or significant other are also all typically awful. While it can be tempting to fit these experiences into some sort of “trauma hierarchy” and assume one is better or worse than another, each of those situations are massively significant for the person who lives through it!
The main thing that Emily would have liked to get across in the interaction months ago about the neighbor was this intense awareness she’s developed post-stroke:
GRIEF IS INDIVIDUALIZED. (all caps per her request, since her hand motions can't be included)
Grief over one loss does not minimize or diminish the validity of another.
Emily is two years post-stroke. Two years into her journey of life-rebuilding. After countless discussions, tears, outbursts of aphasia-defying cursing, and heavy sighs, she’s come to accept that the grief is there. Rather than letting it be the elephant in the room that we try to avoid and ignore, we’ve decided to let this be a frequent topic of discussion with the whole family and her therapists.
“To me grief is part of who I am now. It will always be there. Oh well, it hurts, and it’s OK.”
Grief cannot be compared. One kind of loss is not “worse” than another. Pain, loss, and grief are a reality of life and the human condition. We owe it to our fellow humans to let each individual handle their grief of any kind in their own way, without strings attached. (As long as everyone is safe!)
Because loss and grief are such a huge part of the process of recovering and rebuilding (which is what we’re all about at LION), we're going to revisit this topic again in a week or two and bring you some different perspectives and IRL advice and application for how to live this out with normal people in your normal life.
Do you have stories from your grief journey you'd be willing to share? DO IT!
What responses have been helpful? How has experiencing grief changed the way you encourage others?
Don't be shy, we'd love to include stories from fellow LIONS in our PART TWO post!